Local Commentary

Delegate Scott’s Richmond Report

Reporting on state government

Each year about this time, state agencies begin reporting data for the previous fiscal year. One such document prepared by the Virginia Department of Transportation reports on the state and Federal funds expected to be dedicated to the maintenance of the highway system for next six fiscal years. Maintenance funds are allocated before construction funds; i.e., they are “taken off the top.”

In FY 2008, according to the existing formula, from $1,553,300,000, only 10% comes from Federal funds. Less than 15% of all state funds come to Northern Virginia while our population is approximately 30% of the state.

As my seatmate on the House floor and former Secretary of Transportation, Delegate Vivian Watts, has reminded us, maintenance fund distribution is a larger problem than construction fund distribution. Of course, neither is adequate.

The report underscores the need for additional revenue for operating and construction funds for mass transit, roads, highways and non-traditional methods of reaching the goals of the region’s 2030 Transportation Plan.

By the way, the 2030 Plan may soon become a 2040 Plan because the limited revenues approved by the General Assembly and localities this year will not fund 60% of our annual needs.

Clearly we need to find a way to replace the abuser fees with reliable continuous funding, not only because of inequities in the levying of, but also because, if successful, the revenue from the fees will decline if the higher fees cause more people to drive safely within the speed limit, thus reducing traffic citations and revenues.

This fall we will hear about transportation needs in Northern Virginia. I hope we will all ask candidates who claim they want to address the problem, what revenue packages they will ivote for if elected.

In another area, the Annual Report of the Indigent Defense Commission, quoted the American Bar Association conclusion that Virginia ranked 49th among the states in compensation for private attorneys who represent indigent defendants. Only Mississippi ranked lower.

Because of action by the General Assembly and the Governor, some important improvement will be made. Not only will the compensation for private attorneys increase, but also the very high rate of turnover and vacancy among public defender offices. Unspent funds from the vacancy rates will fund salary increases and new positions in the first year. As a result the total budget for court appointed attorney compensation will decrease because better-staffed public offender offices will handle more cases.  

Still another report lists the fees and tuition increases by Virginia’s public colleges and universities. Those institutions that limited the increase to no more than 6% for 2007-08 received payment from the state from the newly created Higher Education Incentive Fund. State institutions were also given an incentive to increase financial aid to in-state students.

For more information on reports of interest to you, check the Commonwealth of Virginia websites for the various agencies or call my office at 703-560-8338.